Vision Pro: Apple’s Ambitious VR/AR Headset Emerges at WWDC, Arrives in 2024

0
8
img 3889.jpg
img 3889.jpg

The moment we’ve been anticipating for years has arrived: Apple unveiled its new Vision Pro today, a mixed reality headset that could finally bring augmented reality technology into the mainstream. And after demoing it, we’ve already come away impressed.

This moment marks a whole new phase in Apple’s hardware and software ecosystems, and pushes to reestablish an existing category that’s had trouble going mainstream beyond gaming. If Apple gets this right, it could be the device that finally persuades you to take the plunge and invest in your first ever VR/AR headset. And if you do plan on buying a Vision Pro, you might want to get saving now, as it will cost a whopping $3,499 (around £2,815 or AU$5,290 converted) when it goes on sale early next year in the US.

wwdc-new-seq-00-40-00-16-still004.png

Watch this: Apple Unveils Vision Pro Headset

The key to understanding the Vision Pro — what it is and what it does — is in getting your head around how it works with existing Apple apps, services and hardware that you’re probably already familiar with. From the app landscape, you can open up your Messages, Notes, Keynote and Safari as you would on your iPhone using either hand and arm gestures, or you can do so from the digital crown, which you might recognize from the Apple Watch. You can also use Apple’s Magic Keyboard and Trackpad to navigate the interface, which is capable of mirroring the screen of your Mac.

To put it simply: This isn’t just another virtual reality headset. It’s an extension of Apple’s product ecosystem that will bring new flexibility to the tech you know, while opening up access to new experiences you perhaps hadn’t dreamed of before.

App homescreen on VisionOS

Apps you know well, but displayed in a whole new way.

Apple/Screenshot by CNET

“In the same way that Mac introduced us to personal computing, and iPhone introduced us to mobile computing, Apple Vision Pro will introduce us to spatial computing,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook introducing the device during his company’s WWDC developer conference. “This marks the beginning of a journey that will bring a new dimension to powerful personal technology.”

Cook unveiled the Vision Pro in a classic Apple “one more thing” moment, showing an image of a sleek black headset with a thick knitted headband and a black, seemingly translucent screen — a little like Meta’s Quest Pro, except you can see the wearer’s eyes from the outside thanks to an OLED display. Unlike other VR headsets that cut you off from the outside world, the Vision Pro functions as a kind of second screen that sits between your eyes and the real world beyond. 

You can also dim the world beyond the headset or tune it out completely, to provide a more immersive environment, depending on what you’re using it for. If you’re totally in the Vision Pro zone, the outward OLED display will warn people in the room with you that you’re not totally present.

Vision Pro headset, side view

The replaceable strap is made from a chunky knit.

Apple/Screenshot by CNET

Apple is pitching the Vision Pro as your dream movie-watching experience, creating a private theater within your headset that feels 100 feet wide and that can even display 3D films (hello, Avatar) for you, and you alone — ideal for that long-haul flight you’ve got coming up. To really sell the movie experience, the company has partnered with Disney to make its Disney Plus streaming service available from Day 1 when the headset goes on sale.

FaceTime is another reason Apple thinks you will love using the Vision Pro. Hanging out with people remotely (in the metaverse) is an idea Meta has really been selling for the past year or so, but Apple is selling a similar premise without using the same language. Instead of appearing as an avatar, if you’re on a call wearing Vision Pro (and therefore have your face covered) will appear as a rendered picture of yourself that Apple is calling a “Persona.” FaceTime calls take advantage of the room around you, said Apple, with everyone on the call reflected in life-size tiles. While on a call you can co-watch movies, browse photos or collab on a presentation together.

To make all of this happen, there’s a ton of sophisticated tech built into the Vision Pro. Apple’s Spatial Audio will make immersive sound part of the Vision Pro experience, while the ultra-high resolution double displays should deliver crisp, clear images, whether in 2D or 3D. The entire headset is powered by a homegrown dual chip, bringing together Apple’s M2 silicon for the performance and a new R1 chip processing the info from the 12 cameras, five sensors and six microphones on board — phew.

Apple had been expected to enter the VR/AR space for years, with reports going all the way back to 2018. Apple has already had AR tools for iPhones and iPads going back to 2017. Apple’s entry into the landscape now comes when Meta, with its lineup of VR headsets, is having challenges evolving its devices beyond game consoles, and ahead of a Google-Samsung partnership that could lead to competition in the next year. That doesn’t mean it’s eschewing gaming, though. Over 100 Apple Arcade games will be playable on the Vision Pro at launch.

The end game for these mixed reality devices is in compact glasses that ideally can stay on for a whole day and don’t feel strange to use, but in the meantime a wave of smaller VR headsets that blend virtual and real things using passthrough camera video are becoming standard. Apple’s video of someone wearing the Vision Pro as they’re moving around their house didn’t look any different to someone walking around in a standard VR headset, but the fact that you can adjust the immersive level of virtual environments and fold in more of the real world with a twist of the digital crown means that it has more potential than most for all-day wear… or for you being able to function while wearing the headset.

Apple’s headset also looks to redefine an emerging space of AR hardware that still isn’t established yet. The Magic Leap 2 and Microsoft HoloLens 2, along with a handful of smaller glasses like the NReal Light, have all been business-focused or niche AR devices with transparent lenses that haven’t caught on with everyday customers.

Apple’s emergence into this space, and its focus on creating a fluid system that can serve up amazing visuals on an impressive display while finessing hand-tracking tech, could advance the evolution of a whole new wave of much more capable mixed reality headsets to come. 

Previous articleGenerative Artificial Intelligence in agriculture
Next articleThe Pixel 8 Needs These Features to Stand Out From Google’s Budget Phones
Abraham
Expert tech and gaming writer, blending computer science expertise